Apps for Tweens: It’s All About Defying Gravity

by Moms With Apps on May 2, 2011

This article is written by Annie Fox, M. Ed., who is cofounder of the husband-wife team at Electric Eggplant. While much of our focus at Moms With Apps is on apps for young kids, we welcome diversity in age groups. I’m pleased to feature Annie’s perspective because it covers such a critical time period for families: the middle school years. She offers her personal story of why they created their first app, and encourages developers to consider more content that addresses social-emotional needs. Thanks Annie!

April 1st was a pretty exciting day around here. Our first kids’ story app for iPad went live in the iTune App Store. (Note: If my parents were alive they’d have no idea what that last sentence meant, but they’d be enormously proud anyway, which is what we all need from Mom and Dad, right?)

The app is based on Book 1 of my Middle School Confidential series. It’s called Be Confident in Who You Are: A Middle School Confidential™ Graphic Novel.

I haven’t been a tween for a century, and David and I haven’t been parents of one for a long while.  Yet I know what these kids struggle with everyday, because over the past 14 years, thousands of them have emailed me asking for help. What kind of help are they looking for? Help with the challenge of liking how they look, making friends and keeping them, fitting in, bullying, the boyfriend/girlfriend zone, problems with parents. You name it… I get it all.

Since most people defensively block out their middle school memories, you might wonder why a sane adult (that would be me) would choose to revisit the angst, write about it and then develop it as an app. Even if you’re not wondering, I’ll tell you anyway.  It came to me in June 2002 as I sat in a San Francisco theater watching a performance of Wicked.  In case you don’t know this Tony award-winning musical by the brilliant Stephen Schwartz, it’s about friendship and popularity, hanging on to personal integrity in the face of ugly rumors and smear tactics. Sounds like politics or… middle school!  During the 1stact finale Elphaba (a.k.a. The Wicked Witch of the West) sings “Defying Gravity.” The opening lyrics are worth reading carefully:

Something has changed within me

Something is not the same
I’m tired of playing by the rules of someone else’s game
Too late for second guessing

Too late to go back to sleep
It’s time to trust my instincts

Close my eyes… and leap
I’d sooner try defying gravity
Kiss me goodbye I’m defying gravity
And you can’t pull me down.

At the end of the song, this incredibly radiant, powerful, totally misunderstood young woman literally rises above her tormentors… and flies away. I sit there, thunderstruck… weeping, awed by this display of courage and self-respect. A bolt of insight explodes within my head and heart and I now know something I didn’t know when I walked in the theater – I need to encourage middle school kids to fly. I know that they, more than any other age group, hold themselves back by “accepting limits cause someone says they’re so.” As the lights come up signaling intermission I stay seated, fully aware that I would write a book encouraging kids to defy gravity because without some serious help it can be too painful and difficult for them to grow up healthy and loving.

Of course many tweens stumble through 6th-8th grade without special help. They survive then promptly try to forget the pain of those years. But so many others need an anti-gravity boost now.  My Middle School Confidential books and app can provide that. So can any app for this age group that really engages their minds and their hearts, as well as understands exactly what their challenges and priorities are. They want to be liked. Yet they don’t believe they’re good enough.

In order for them to make choices that reflect who they really are, they need encouragement in believing that who they really are is good enough. More than “good enough,” actually perfect.

While doing our initial research on what apps were already out there, we were surprised how few apps were available for this age group other than games and pure educational apps (math, reading, etc.). We’d love to see other app developers put thought-provoking entertainment and solutions into the hands of kids who are dealing with these social-emotional issues right now.

Founded by David and Annie Fox, Electric Eggplant has been on the forefront of multimedia design and production since its inception in 1992. Annie and David Fox have partnered on dozens of projects in their 36 years of marriage, including co founding the Marin Computer Center—the world’s first public-access  microcomputer center. The Foxes have consistently garnered kudos for their work on games, educational software, Web design, emotional intelligence content, online communities, and emerging technologies, as well as books and apps for kids, tweens, and teens. Annie has been teaching, writing, and creating innovative content for kids for many decades. Since 1997, she’s been answering online questions (as Hey Terra!) from tweens, teens, and parents around the world. David was one of the original members of Lucasfilm Games (now LucasArts) and was project leader/designer/programmer on several of their titles, including the classic Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Olympia May 3, 2011 at 12:09 pm

I couldn’t agree with you more about the need to uplift children during this vital period of their social-emotional development. I look forward to discovering more about your books and apps, I have a tween myself, who, since she is tall like I am (6’2″), has a lot going on. I’d love to feature Annie Fox M.Ed. and your site, on our the Super Parenting Social Network. I think this is a great resource for parents. I’m glad I found it. Take care!

Cindy May 3, 2011 at 1:43 pm

Thanks for thinking of the middle-school kids! As a parent, I would like to see more. I’ve taken away some of the difficulties in that I homeschool my middle schooler. But, many of the same issues still exist in interpersonal relationships and how to fit it. Help me to help her fly!

Annie Fox May 3, 2011 at 5:03 pm

Hi Olympia and Cindy,
We’re all on the same page noticing how challenging this period of social and emotional development can be and usually is! I’m all about helping tweens learn to be their own best friend first. I think that starts with the adults who live and work with tweens to try to understand their priorities and have compassion for their challenges. When they learn about self-respect they begin to learn about treating others with respect.

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